With A Focus On Local Response, PG&E Prepares For Winter Storm Season

Fall is here and winter is just around the corner, and PG&E has been busily planning to respond to storm season and possible electric outages across its 70,000-square-mile service area in Northern and Central California.

And even as new tools and technologies have improved the energy company's customer restoration capabilities system-wide, the ability to localize outage response has sharpened, too. Those capabilities include weather forecasts that pinpoint where storm damage will be most severe; mobile generators that allow rapid restoration to individual neighborhoods; and small base camps, or microsites, to coordinate restoration response closer to storm damage.

"Over the last few years, we've been able to strengthen our ability to get in front of weather events, wherever they happen in our service area. We follow industry best practices to develop local restoration models and quickly assemble multiple base camps as they're needed," said Pat Hogan, PG&E senior vice president of Electric Transmission & Distribution.

Storm season arrived early in parts of the service area, with two notable weather makers along the North Coast in October. Eureka saw its wettest October since 1950, and the second-wettest since recordkeeping began in 1896, said Mike Voss, PG&E principal meteorologist.

A rainy start to the season doesn't necessarily herald above-average winter storm activity.

"Larger storms can happen anytime, independent of El Niño or La Niña. We always have to be prepared for winter storms. With multiple local forecasts each day, our storm outage prediction model helps us know in advance where we will need to deploy resources to restore power," Voss said.

Nor is weather uniform across the area. Last year, the northern part of PG&E's service area saw higher-than-usual snowpack, while the Central Valley and the southern Sierras experienced average to below-average precipitation.

Those variations show the importance of localized storm preparation and response. Measures include:
  • Advanced Weather Forecasting: PG&E's storm outage prediction model (SOPP) combines 20 years of historical weather and outage data with weather forecasts and real-time weather observations to produce daily, highly localized outage outlooks by division. During weather events, PG&E meteorologists update forecasts and outage predictions several times a day. Those predictions help PG&E anticipate the crews and equipment the company will need for storm response and restoration.
  • Localized Resource Planning: PG&E's robust emergency response planning helps the company prepare in advance of storms. The company keeps crews on standby in areas bracing for heavy storm activity, and can quickly dispatch crews from less-affected areas to communities that experience the heaviest damage.
  • Upgraded Telecommunications: Upgrades to the company's Mobile Command Vehicles, which are emergency-response vehicles with high-tech communication and mapping features, include improved satellite data capabilities. Also, new microwave trailers with 85-foot telescoping towers can rapidly deploy to remote locations, allowing incident-command staff to manage response via PG&E telecommunications networks. The technologies give the company more flexibility to quickly boost response resources in real time as conditions change.
  • Scalable Base Camps: For the first time in a winter season, where needed, PG&E will deploy "microsites" - smaller base camps to launch restoration work to nearby areas. Microsites are less than five acres, compared with as many as 45 acres for a full base camp. PG&E successfully deployed microsites during the wildfire seasons of 2015 and 2016. Microsites can be scaled up quickly into full base camps if more crews and supplies become necessary.
  • Portable Power Generation: PG&E increased its inventory of mobile generators, enabling faster restoration in storm-affected communities. Previously, large-scale portable generators were used to maintain service when substations and power lines were offline for upgrades. Now, they will provide generation during storm repairs. Created for PG&E and supplied by Aggreko, the PowerPak generator arrives at sites fully assembled, and seamlessly integrates into the distribution system. One PowerPak can safely and quickly restore power for as many as 300 customers, and enough units are available to PG&E to restore power for up to 5,000 customers in less than 48 hours.

Those initiatives add to PG&E tools including SmartMeters that quickly pinpoint outage locations and cut response times; advanced technology that "self-heals" the grid by rerouting power and restoring service to customers in minutes; and state-of-the-art distribution control centers in Fresno, Concord and Rocklin to manage PG&E's 140,000 circuit miles of distribution lines.

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